Trevor Hall left Barbados in 1962 to become a bus conductor with London Transport, but within 20 years he would be the first black man to work as a senior civil servant in one of England’s most powerful government departments, the Home Office. Hall was appointed Senior Community Relations Consultant, with responsibility for Race Relations. In fact, Hall achieved several firsts during his time in England.
At 17, Hall was the commanding officer of St. Leonard’s Church Lads Brigade (CLB), when he and four others were selected to attend the CLB’s 75th Anniversary Jamboree in London. Five years later, he was again in London, but this time to begin working on the buses. After a year he changed jobs and became an administrative officer for the Church of England Board of Education. He continued working with young people part-time and soon took command of the CLB company in Twickenham, where he lived.
The only black commanding office in the London region – and with all white boys under his care – Hall became the first Regional Director of Training for London and the South East of England. By 1966-67, the young man from Browne’s Gap, Passage Road, St. Michael was serving as Senior Officer on a national project which took 118 teenagers on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
When the local education authority in a town called Rugby wanted someone to help develop a multi-racial youth program, Hall was recommended. That position as Race Relations Officer with responsibility for Youth became the official start of his career in Race Relations. He brought together young men from the local white community and others from Indian, West Indian, Pakistani, Irish, Iranian and East African backgrounds – all mingling and playing together.
“In time, we were among the best football and cricket teams, and there was a waiting list of young people trying to join. I used sports to integrate people.”
The one thing which the young men had in common was their love for cricket, Hall remembered. “One always wanted to better the other, so I harnessed that and created a multi-racial team. This was not normal, and the challenge was to see if this thing could work, with several ethnicities coming together. What I was doing had never been done before in England.”
Hall was also the first to organise a Multi-racial Youth Exchange Program between England and Europe; where he took groups of young men and women to places like France, Germany and the Netherlands. “You can imagine what it was like back then having 30 or 40 young people, blacks and whites at the airports together? That was unheard of,” he remarked. The Barbadian went on to be the first black chairman of the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Program.
Hall eventually moved from working with young people into other areas. Still working for the Education Authority, he used his experience in community and race training to begin lecturing police, prison officers and magistrates in these areas.
Influenced mainly by the 1981 Brixton Race Riots, there was discussion in England at the time about young blacks in the society and the challenges of integrating them. Based on his success with integrating young people from all ethnicities, “when tensions were beginning to develop in the country” Hall was the one they sought advice from about bringing cohesiveness.
When a vacancy for a consultant came up at the Home Office in 1982, he was offered the role of Community Race Relations Consultant. It was a three-year contract which made him the most senior black person at that Government Department with responsibility for Immigration, Police, Nationality, Probation, “areas which impacted mainly on black people,” he stressed.
“The thinking back then was that whites didn’t understand us, but it was more than that. I believe there was an element of racism. We, from the Caribbean, are more than cricket, calypso and Christianity. It has to be more than that. You have to discuss racism,” he stressed.
At the end of his first contract Hall was appointed Race Relations Advisor to the Permanent Secretary and became the first black member of the Home Office Management Board. Where previously there had been an absence of blacks at the table to discuss race relations, he was now filling that role.
“The black staff were very pleased,” he recalled, “and I wasn’t exposed to any unkind language or misbehaviour on the job. And you couldn’t come around me with the latest racist joke and think it was funny either,” he emphasized. “When you have status, they don’t treat you like that.”
Coming into the new post, his focus was not on the problems. “I’m a very independent individual so when I sat around that table I spoke about what the solutions should be. I passionately believe in racial justice and I was prepared to fight for it,” Hall emphasized. “Government, over the years, did not take Race Relations seriously. You got a lot of rhetoric and nice words; I didn’t only want commitment, I wanted change.”
Despite being a Government official, the St. Leonards Boys’ alumnus also had some bitter experiences, like being stopped 49 times by police while driving. “And you would consider me a decent law-abiding citizen,” he commented. He lay the blame for these interceptions squarely at the feet of the “white police psyche. They seem to automatically get a message when they see a black man driving; either the driver himself is here illegally or he’s carrying something illegal.”
Hall also sat on the Management Board of the Justice Department for two years and was a consultant to the Lord Chancellor’s Department. During that period he designed and administered a training program for judges, which dealt with racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. “It was a time when judges needed to understand what was happening; 1, 700 judges went through that program, but unfortunately, it was never repeated.”
Now 79, Hall still holds passionate views about issues facing blacks in England. Addressing the treatment of the Windrush Generation and their descendants, he believes that “What they asked people to prove – knowing they could not – was iniquitous. How can you ask people to produce evidence of how and when they arrived in England 50 years earlier? It was a vicious, nasty game to get rid of some people quickly, and someone around that policy should have said it wasn’t fair. It should be principle over policy.”
As for employing minorities, Hall recalled that when he first went to the Home Office there were very few blacks and none in senior grades. “Now it’s about 20 per cent ethnic minorities and still no one in the senior grades. Forty years later we are still talking about recruiting more black police and blacks in the criminal justice system; retaining them and promoting them is the challenge,” he said.
After 20 years at the Home Office, Hall retired in 2002. “I was a very proud boy from the gap, trying to do the best I could.” He now has “a little” more time to enjoy his hobbies – cooking and entertaining.”
He still remains deeply engaged in working to address and improve racial justice and equality in the UK, as his advice is still sought at all levels of British society.
Among those whom Hall has had the privilege of meeting over the years are Her Majesty The Queen, former South African President Nelson Mandela and his fellow countryman, Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Married for more than 50 years, Hall and his wife Greta have a son, David, daughter Joanna-Marie and three grandchildren. (SD)